Star Trek and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Tribble Episodes

Once upon a time, there was a Star Trek fan club in Atlanta that did not have enough members, and it did not have enough rules. So they had an idea: they were going to organize every other fan club in Atlanta with their rules and give them each a planet. So there would be a Doctor Who planet and a LARP planet and an RPG planet and an anime planet and so on.

And each of these planets would appoint ambassadors to visit the other planets and report back to their own planet, and to the Star Trek planet, which was the most important planet, what every other planet was doing. Because that’s exactly what you want to do before you spend your afternoon in the game shop playing BattleMech: stop for half an hour to listen to your planet’s ambassadors report what episodes of Forever Knight they watched at the vampire planet’s last meeting.

But in the interest of goodwill, some friends of some friends put an anime music video together for the Star Trek fan club to show at their table at some con. This was the early ’90s, when Akira was hot and people were saying things like “that Japanimation is totally bitchin’.” I don’t remember what song the editors originally chose, but the Star Trek fan club decided that it needed to be a much more totally bitchin’ song and so they overdubbed it with MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.”

I’m not making any of this up, I swear.

Word got back, and we were aggrieved and offended and amused, and so I decided to retaliate. I phoned a friend who had some Star Trek on video and a couple of us got together and edited, deliberately, the worst fan video ever made. You thought that songtape of Kirk and Spock exchanging meaningful glances to the tune of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” was bad?

Okay, that one I made up.

Well, this was worse. It didn’t have a storyline, I dumped video effects into it just because one of my decks could do that, and once I finished the master, I recopied it back and forth twice more with the tracking screwed up to make it look like the work of an enthusiastic idiot.

The scenes were picked almost entirely at random from six episodes of the original show and Next Generation, plus the movie where Spock gives a nerve pinch to the guy on the bus with the boom box. It was four minutes of shots of people in hallways, except I made sure to include Denise Crosby in a sexy costume, and when all the Tribbles got dumped on Kirk’s head, I fast forwarded and rewound and fast forwarded and rewound. And then the finishing touch, delivered with a chef’s kiss: the soundtrack to this eyeball-punching monstrosity was a song by the then-popular boy band New Kids on the Block.

The people who were in on the joke chuckled for maybe thirty seconds before it lost any charm. People who were not in on the joke were annoyed just being in the same room. The video was made to aggravate anybody who saw it, like going to a comedy club to see Andy Kaufman, that funny man from TV, and all he does is read a book at you until his voice gives out. Some joke, huh?

But the joke was on me, because when you spend half an hour making your Tribbles dump and jump, up and down, back and forth, as terribly as two VHS players can make them hop, you have, forever, associated the Tribbles with “You Got The Right Stuff” by New Kids on the Block. And David Gerrold, who wrote this episode, is such a nice man and such a good writer that even though I don’t care for Star Trek, I feel terrible that I did this to his script. And the original episode has those fine actors William Schallert and Stanley Adams in it. The guest stars and series regulars all deserved better than the New Kids on the Block. David, if you’re out there, I’m really sorry. We should have used Harlan’s episode.

Of course the kid loved it to pieces. “The Trouble With Tribbles,” I mean, not that terrible video. And that bit where Scotty asks Kirk whether his answer is on the record really is funny. But he howled throughout as the situation escalated, especially because it wrong-footed him completely. I successfully kept this one a complete secret, and when Cyrano Jones is selling Uhura on the wonder of Tribbles, one goes and munches on Chekov’s grain. Our kid said “It’s going to grow into a giant!” And boy, was he wrong. We’ve seen this kid lose it completely laughing, and I’ve reported to you good readers that he was in stitches, but this was next-level. Every subsequent revelation that the Tribbles are getting everywhere had him on the floor choking with laughter. Watch old shows with kids, friends. You might just have a really good time.

And then I seriously wrong-footed him by sending him out of the room and setting up the 1996 sequel episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, telling him that what happened next on Sherman’s Planet was resolved in this show. What actually happened was they made a thirtieth anniversary special and had a Klingon villain jump back in time a century to the events of “The Trouble With Tribbles,” planning to change history somehow. So Avery Brooks and Terry Farrell and their gang dig deep in the closet for some old Star Fleet uniforms and tech.

Honestly, the “gee-gosh-wow that’s really the Mister Spock!” business gets a little tired, but the production is remarkable and the visual effects to insert the 1990s actors into 1960s footage makes for some great little jokes. Say, that guy wasn’t there when we watched this scene half an hour ago! The time travel stuff is the really amusing part. Avery Brooks’ character is being grilled by two bureaucrats from the Federation’s time travel division, who really don’t want to have to clean up another mess involving that blasted Captain Kirk again, and one poor fellow thinks he may be caught in a Grandfather Paradox and is obliged to meet up with a lady on the Enterprise to ensure his own existence. And of course there are Tribbles. Tribbles everywhere.

That’s all the Star Trek I’m going to watch, but the kid enjoyed the heck out of it and he’ll probably want to start getting spaceship ornaments for our Christmas tree just like his uncle. He can get his own Blu-rays though. We’ll watch one more thing on the CBS streaming service before they bill me, so stick around for Saturday to see what that might be.

Logan’s Run 1.5 – Man Out of Time

Holy anna! Knock me over with a feather, because this episode of Logan’s Run is no-kidding terrific. We’ve been watching this show with slightly raised eyebrows, trying to enjoy it on its own humble terms, but this one’s fabulous. It’s about a guy from the 22nd Century who travels two hundred years into the future and meets up with our heroes, looking for his own version of Sanctuary.

It turns out that he’s one of a group of scientists who have been predicting the forthcoming nuclear war – remember, if you can, that in 1977, we were all pretty preoccupied with the likelihood that such a war wasn’t going to wait until 2118 to erupt – and have locked away a computer to process everything up until the inevitable bombs shut off the power. So he pops to the 24th Century to get the tapes, running afoul of the people in a well-meaning but illiterate farming community, led by Mel Ferrer, who worship the dormant computers.

It’s mainly only dated by the design. I kind of doubt that people in 2118 will still be using reel-to-reel magnetic tape, and I absolutely don’t believe that the tapes will still be in one piece in 2318. Otherwise, this really does a great job addressing the moral dilemma at the core and questioning whether the scientist could possibly prevent anything. I was loving this, beyond any notion that I might, even before the final twist, which is a downright delicious little humdinger.

I hopped on IMDB to find out what else for television this show’s writer, Noah Ward, had done. Turned out it was a pseudonym for David Gerrold, who’d spent 1974 screwing with kids’ heads by way of the time paradoxes in the first season of Land of the Lost. (In point of fact, I’d been drawing specific comparisons to the episode “The Stranger,” which Walter Koenig had written for Gerrold, already.) Man alive. If I’d seen his actual name in the credits, I’d have sat up straight and expected greatness. As it was, the quality of the story got my attention just fine with a false credit. What a fun hour!

Our son thought it was sad and weird, and then Mommy started confusing him with paradoxes with a twinkle in her eye.

Land of the Lost 1.17 – Circle

It may be intensely silly to complain about a continuity error in a story about a time paradox, but it’s always bothered me that the Marshalls discover that the Sleestak have a dormant season in this episode, when they already knew about it four shows earlier and they watched that season come to an end when the underground lava pit rises. Yet this is clearly intended to be the series finale; kids shows never had “final episodes” back in these days, and nor was it all that common for live-action kid shows, particularly the incredibly expensive Sid and Marty Krofft shows, to get a second season. So Larry Niven and David Gerrold seem to have crossed their various drafts, originally intending this to appear much earlier in the season, but they realized it would make a fine finale.

It’s a bit heady, but basically Enik discovers that there are two sets of Marshalls: one made it into the Land and the other is trapped in a time loop on Earth. Nobody can leave through a time doorway – another sign that this was intended for earlier in the season, because Beau Jackson did just that in the previous episode – until it is resolved. Enik can manipulate a doorway to bring the alternate Marshalls into the Land, but will not; such interference is against his people’s code. So Rick Marshall does it, bringing the other family in so that his family can leave. There’s a little more to it than that, but there’s the gist.

So Marshall Family # 1 experienced the Land up through the events of “Circle” (wherever it actually fits in the show’s chronology, probably around episode 12) and went home. Marshall Family # 2 experienced the same events, skipped “Circle,” and continued onward, probably popping from Beau Jackson and “Hurricane” to the next episode that we’ll watch. Confused yet?

Don’t worry; kids can understand it. Daniel loved this episode and bravely insisted that he wasn’t scared. That’s actually not completely true, because he whimpered through all the Sleestak bits, and when one popped up out of nowhere to grab Spencer Milligan from behind, he leapt about three feet with a shout.

Sadly, this was the end of Gerrold and Niven’s tenure on Land of the Lost, and with them went most of the pipeline to all the Star Trek writers. But even without Gerrold’s guiding hand, season two still has a heck of a lot of great material in it, including what’s by far my favorite episode of the series. Gerrold went on to focus on writing some very good novels, but has occasionally dabbled in television. In 1989, I wrote him a fan letter and he kindly replied, noting that he and some associates had almost got to make a Return to the Land of the Lost series a few years previously. It’s a shame that program, whatever they planned, never happened. I am absolutely certain that it would have been superior to season three of this show, and hundreds of miles better than that diseased 1990s remake.

Land of the Lost 1.16 – Hurricane

I did promise our son that this episode was not a frightening one, but he sure pretended that it was, and found reasons to run and hide whenever possible, just because he enjoys the little rush. Even the reasonably harmless triceratops, Spike, had him making a dash for safety. About which, I’ve always wondered why the miniature unit shot that dinosaur in such a long shot. You know the one, they used it about five times, with the beast at the far end of a clearing, munching away, and making a sudden turn toward the camera as though something startled it.

This episode, written by Larry Niven and David Gerrold and directed by Bob Lally, sees a one-off visitor to the Land. Ron Masak, who would later have a major recurring role as Sheriff Metzger on Murder, She Wrote, plays Beauregard Jackson, a pilot from at least twenty years in the Marshalls’ future, who parachutes in from a glider, or possibly a Moonbase rocket, after Will opens a time doorway which slices off the back of Jackson’s ship.

The story includes another of the all-time freaky images of the show, as the characters use Jackson’s high-powered binoculars to look across the Land and see themselves from behind. It’s such a neat visual that it will make you forget that the mountaintop backdrop behind them has a great big vertical line running down the center of the sky, because it’s two separate panels badly aligned.

It also has fun with the reality of an open doorway from our world into the closed universe. Will opened the doorway into Earth’s upper atmosphere, where the wind is traveling much, much faster than the calm breeze of the Land. Interestingly, the skylons appear and try to tell the humans how to correct the weather, but their instructions don’t fix anything; the wind that is coming in is unnatural, and the force growing. I’m intrigued that the pylon used in this story can manipulate both weather and time doorways, and also that the pylon and one of the skylons are actually swallowed by the doorway, where, presumably, they plummeted into the ground or the ocean from several miles in the sky and were smashed to pieces.

Also of note: Jackson flat out says that the pylon is “bigger on the inside than the outside,” which is exactly what everybody says when they first step into Doctor Who‘s TARDIS. Now, at the time this was made, only thirteen of Jon Pertwee’s first fourteen Doctor Who serials had been offered for sale in the United States, and Jo Grant does indeed use that line in part one of “Colony in Space,” but only sixteen markets in the country ever picked up the package over the four years it was offered, and KCET in Los Angeles didn’t start airing it until 1975. While it is technically possible that Niven or Gerrold could have seen the concept and description in Who, it’s more likely that this is a delightful little coincidence.

Land of the Lost 1.12 – The Possession

There’s a lot to be said for the dangers of dinosaurs and Sleestak, but the most traumatizing episodes of Land of the Lost really must be the ones where some ancient technology starts screwing with the family and – this is key – they do not have any answers as to what the heck is happening.

In David Gerrold’s “The Possession,” we do get some answers right at the end, and can piece together a little more from what’s left unsaid, and then speculate a little. Perhaps the Altrusian being – one of Enik’s people – responsible for these horrors was imprisoned in one of the pylons centuries ago, disembodied and left as energy in a green globe. Periodically, the three moons in the Land line up in formation, and this causes the door to open. If anybody wanders inside while the moons are still aligned, then the formless energy can possess them, and send them out with a silver baton to sap energy from crystals and bring it back to… feed? free the entity? reincorporate it? We’re never told.

All that’s left is the horror of seeing Holly walk like a zombie with this baton, zapping anybody in her path, and not understanding why. So yes, this was another episode that sent our son scurrying behind the sofa for safety.

Land of the Lost 1.2 – The Sleestak God

Our son was so brave tonight. I convinced myself some time ago that we’d have problems with this episode, but he handled it almost stoically, blanket held tightly, biting his lip. About twenty seconds before the Sleestak emerged from their hiding places, he was worried for a completely different reason: “They’re lost!”

Then the bad boys of Saturday morning showed up. “WHAT ARE THOSE?!” Daniel demanded, retreating to Mommy’s lap.

The original three Sleestak, incidentally, were all basketball players who went on to pro careers. John Lambert played for UCLA, and David Greenwood and Bill Laimbeer were still in high school, but were each close to seven feet tall, ideal for great big ungainly green monsters. Playing for Detroit some years later, Laimbeer was probably even meaner to his opponents than he was in his Sleestak costume on set.

You know, this show kind of has a reputation, mostly deserved, for being sort of rudimentary in direction. But the climactic scene of Rick and Cha-Ka rescuing Will and Holly from the Sleestak has a pretty amazing sense of urgency. Dennis Steinmetz directed this, and about half of season one overall, and despite a tiny continuity flaw that happens when the nearly-extinguished torch that Rick is carrying in the tunnel becomes a roaring, flaming threat when he enters the sacrifice room, the sequence is really amazing, with lots of quick cuts and close-ups of the looming monsters.

The other thing I noticed: Kathy Coleman spends much of season one being really annoying when she’s whining. But on the other hand, watch this with a kid. The whimpering really emphasizes how much trouble they’re in, and kept our four year-old riveted and electrified.

Land of the Lost 1.1 – Cha-Ka

“THIS IS THE SCARIEST SHOW EVER!” shouted Daniel. And he’s right. Four year-olds can totally get what’s happening when a mean twenty-foot tyrannosaur is stomping around after you.

I am really glad that we waited a few months to start this show, and get him used to some frights, because having Grumpy the tyrannosaur chase the Marshalls around the jungle while they try to see to a young ape-man, a Paku called Cha-Ka, really is stunning the first time you see it through small eyes. I’ve seen this episode sixty-eleven times already; I spent most of the twenty-five minutes watching not the set but my son, whose eyes were as big as dinner plates when they weren’t hid under his blanket or on the other side of the couch.

This was awesome.

The show was created, at different levels, by Sid and Marty Krofft, Allan Foshko, and by David Gerrold, who did the heavy lifting and the world-building. There are weird hiccups in this first script that sound like earlier drafts, unfinished, made the final cut. (For example, did the Marshalls really spend time building a basket-lift elevator, and prep “flyswatter” log deterrents for Grumpy before they talked about where they might be, and that there are three moons in the sky?) But it’s a heck of a good first script overall. Gerrold was absolutely right to start this with a simple story of rescuing Cha-Ka and running around trying to get away from the dinosaur. It establishes the immediate dinosaur threat with quite a lot of great stop-motion animation, establishes the Marshalls as resourceful, good people who believably squabble and have legitimate fears, and establishes Cha-Ka, smallest of them all, as a downright fantastic audience identification figure for the youngest viewers.

But Land of the Lost is an astonishingly neat series that is a whole lot more than the sum of its parts. It’s completely unlike anything that was on television for kids in 1974 because it has continuity and a story that unfolds across multiple episodes. I’ve been so looking forward to watching this again. Yes, many of the acting performances are weak, and yes, the chromakey effects are woefully dated, but the slow, week-by-week revelation of a great big world, a great big history, and the presence of great big questions is just so damn fun. It will all end in tears, it’s true, because season three is so head-trauma awful in missing the point and missing opportunities, but we’ll have so much fun getting there.

If we can get past the next episode. I’m still a little concerned about the Sleestak. Actually, a lot concerned.

(Note: Universal’s complete DVD set was released to coincide with the Will Ferrell movie from 2009, which is better than you have heard [if not by much], but the episodes were not remastered. These are badly color-washed, very old tapes with a lot of bleeding and blurring. I don’t get the finest results pausing for screencaps with my equipment in the first place, but I fear that this show’s going to drive me to distraction to get good illustrations for you. Please bear with me in case of poor pictures!)